Should Jahlil Okafor Be the Rookie of the Year Frontrunner?

Statistically, what type of player usually wins Rookie of the Year? Does it make Okafor the upcoming favorite?

Rookie big man Jahlil Okafor of the Philadelphia 76ers made news recently by saying that one of his goals this season is to be the Rookie of the Year. Why it’s news that a player’s goal is to be good and do well with his team is a valid question, but in the dog days of summer, any story is a viable one.

So, despite the obviousness of the statement, it does bring up an interesting point –- what sort of players win Rookie of the Year? Of course, it’s the “best rookie", but how can we statistically quantify this? Is it the most points? What about most rebounds? Perhaps most minutes played?

Let’s take a look at the last 20 years and each winning Rookie of the Year's rank (among their classmates who played a minimum of 20 games) in points per game, rebounds, assists, total minutes, and a category where I’m just combining points, rebounds, and assists. Here’s the table:

SeasonROYMinutes RankPPG RankRPG RankAPG RankP+R+A Rank
2014-2015Andrew Wiggins118111
2013-2014Michael Carter-Williams21111
2012-2013Damian Lillard111811
2011-2012Kyrie Irving811621
2010-2011Blake Griffin11121
2009-2010Tyreke Evans21521
2008-2009Derrick Rose221411
2007-2008Kevin Durant111031
2006-2007Brandon Roy31811
2005-2006Chris Paul11411
2004-2005Emeka Okafor311261
2003-2004LeBron James12631
2002-2003Amar'e Stoudemire221252
2001-2002Pau Gasol21181
2000-2001Mike Miller13793
1998-1999Vince Carter21431
1997-1998Tim Duncan11171
1996-1997Allen Iverson11921
1995-1996Damon Stoudamire221211

There’s a very strong correlation between winning the award and leading in points per game or minutes –- after all, we’re all about a player’s ability to #getbuckets. However, the correlation gets even stronger when we add points, rebounds, and assists per game. In the last 20 years, only two ROYs didn’t lead their class in that category: Amar'e Stoudemire and Mike Miller.

The point is that Rookie of the Year voting is more about raw numbers than efficiency numbers. Michael Carter-Williams two years ago was a good example of this –- Carter-Williams posted a true-shooting percentage of .480, and though I’m not crazy about individual offensive and defensive ratings, his marks of 96 and 108, respectively, don’t suggest that he was a particularly great player his rookie season. However, he was largely ahead in the raw numbers –- his P+R+A per game number of 29.2 was significantly ahead of Victor Oladipo's mark of 22.0.

Carter-Williams also posted a class-high usage rate of 25.7, very high for a rookie. Players with low usage rates obviously don’t have as many opportunities to accumulate raw statistics, so this is why Rookie of the Years tend to come from the top of the draft class -- they’re better players in general, but they’re also going to worse teams, which means that they’ll have a chance at higher usage (ironically, Carter-Williams is one of the exceptions but #Sixers).

So what are the odds that Okafor will win ROY this season? Well, it depends on what you think are the odds that he’ll lead his class in the raw statistics. I think that’s probably a fair assumption. And this might be the biggest difference between Okafor and number-one pick Karl-Anthony Towns -- Okafor will probably always have the raw numbers edge, but Towns may always make the bigger impact on his team. But at least for next year, Okafor might be the most celebrated rookie.